(KERO) — Almost 50, 12 to 14-year-old boys from around Kern County are headed to the Sequoia National Forest as part of the RM Pyles Boys Camp aiming to help at-risk youth. The program has been shut down for nearly three years due to the pandemic and the Castle Fire, but Monday dozens of staff members and campers will head to the hills in the first of four sessions running thru August 2nd.
For some of these kids, this is their first time away from home, but both the staff members and parents hope this will be a life-changing experience for all of them.
"I was 15. Was selected by a social worker. I was an orphan, a ward of the state," explains Jose Ojeda, a senior counselor with the RM Pyles Boys Camp. "They chose me and my little brother to go up, and after that just fell in love with the camp. It was honestly one of the first places I could call home."
Now wearing a staff shirt, Ojeda has been a camper himself and says his greatest tool is knowing what some of these kids have gone through.
"They’re like me, lacking a male [role] model. At-risk. Growing up in inner cities, often in poverty. Some of them are bullies. Some are on the opposite end of that."
Ojeda says the goals here include character building, teaching the boys to express themselves, and putting words to their emotions. That is also something parents, like Siomara Jimenez, are looking forward to.
"Confidence. Cause he is a good kid, but he lacks confidence."
Whether it is confidence or maturity many parents sending their kids off Monday are hoping for growth from their kids.
"We have to learn to trust him somewhere, and if any environment is to be able to give him that trust, it should be this one," continued Jimenez. "That way he will begin to develop a little bit of his personality."
The boys will return in about 2 weeks, but the journey does not end there.
"They have the opportunity to earn the right to continue in the program, so that includes year-round mentoring, educational events throughout the year and then they can earn the right to come back for a second, third- or fourth-year program that ultimately culminates with a college or trade school scholarship," explains Adam Bell, the executive director at the camp.
Bell adds they are excited to be back after wildfires and COVID had them closed for the past two years. All the boys were tested for COVID Monday morning before heading out and will have tests available throughout the two weeks.
Staff says they are adjusting to the new normal but are doing everything to continue the life-saving program they know makes an impact in the community.
Says Bell, "Each boy we change we know has a ripple effect, like throwing a stone in a pond. That boy becomes a great man. Will participate in the community, will participate in their children’s life and will just change the community for the better."
The camp is completely free to the boys, paid for by community organizations and community members. The staff says this is an investment in their future.